Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Column

(Writers note: As usual this column appears here a week after its newspaper release per the arrangement with my syndicators)

^NEWT NEWS IS NEVER OLD NEWS@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGTON _ The Libyan desert's shifting sands have nothing on Newt Gingrich's Libyan shifting stands. You have to give the man credit. In his never ending fight to stand out in the ``Trash Obama Republican Sweepstakes,'' he shows himself to be so fast on his feet, that he sometimes puts one in his mouth. He's a one man ``Crossfire.'' When President Obama hadn't yet committed to military intervention, the March 7 Gingrich sound bite on FOX was: ``Exercise a no-fly zone this evening.''...``All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening.'' Here's a scary thought: Maybe the White House was following Gingrich's lead and that's why Obama and NATO later pulled the trigger. Obviously, though, Newt Gingrich is not someone who can take ``yes'' for an answer. On March 23, he was telling the ``Today Show'': ``I would not have intervened.'' Inconsistent, to say the least. No problem. A couple days later in Des Moines, Gingrich acknowledged that ``obviously there were contradictions'' in his views. Not his fault though. It was Barack Obama's, he insisted. "The fact is that on each day I was on television I was responding to where the President was that day. I was trying to follow Obama.'' But then, he subsequently told the Greenville S.C., Women's Republican Club on March 24 that the president had failed to show leadership on Libya and that he was ``spectator in chief instead of commander in chief.'' So, Gingrich contended he was ``trying to follow'' the ``spectator in chief.'' Confusing? Maybe he wants it that way. What's really happening here is that Gingrich is attempting to position himself as a Republican presidential contender and Obama critic by playing the old game of ``whatever he's for, I'm against.'' The man is no newcomer to verbal gymnastics. In February 2007 he was saying on the TV program ``Frontline'' of the proposed ``cap and trade'' approach to limiting greenhouse gases: ``Frankly, it's something I would strongly support.'' That was then. By April 2009 in Newsweek, he was strongly opposed. ``Such a plan would have the effect of an across-the-board energy tax on every American. That will make our artificial energy crisis even worse.'' Again, only two words can explain what set off the schizophrenia: ``President Obama.'' .

We need to show some compassion for Newt. The guy is facing stiff competition to be heard above the shrill din generated by some others in his party. Sarah Palin is leading the noisemakers

It has to be galling to Gingrich that he now finds himself consistently in 4th place when Republicans are polled about presidential preferences. A March 25 Gallup survey is the latest to place him behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Palin. He consistently shows 10 percent support.

Republican strategist John Feehery believes Gingrich will have to fight “the perception he is undisciplined.”

He definitely is dealing with a past lack of discipline when it came to matters of the heart. In the party that’s home to many social conservatives, Gingrich has had to account for his three marriages and an adulterous affair with wife No. 3 preceding their nuptial vows. On March 9, he explained to a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer that he was compelled by the American dream; “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,”

These days he hits hard at “values” as an important issue: “I’m here to tell you,” he preached in Iowa, “that if you don’t start with values, if you don’t start by saying who we are as Americans, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”

His comments are littered with attacks on “secular atheist” this and that. It’s just another example of his being a changed man _ and an ever changing one. Or, as his detractors might spin it, a man singing an always different tune.

Of course, most assume he really is going to run for the Republican nomination. Recently, after lots of advance publicity over an announcement that he was jumping in, he made a statement on the appointed day that he’s giving real serious thought to it. He’s such a tease.

The issue du jour for him is the war over Libya. His views seem to be determined by the moment’s prevailing winds. Then again, maybe they’re simply wind. Then again, maybe it’s just the fog of politics. Then again, maybe it’s just Newt.
^–@< (E-mail: bob(at); on the Web:

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